I went to a trial this weekend with my dogs and was astounded by the number of dogs that were overweight but still competing at the higher levels. Yes, fat dogs doing Masters level agility.
We all know the aliments that follow us people around who find themselves with spare tire around their waist – pain in the feet, ankles, knees, hips and lower back. Three of those I suffer from myself. So, I can only imagine how chubby puppies feel as they haul all that extra weight around the agility field – climbing contact obstacles, pounding the ground jump-after-jump-after-jump, trying to run faster, turn tight and weave through the poles. What an incredible stress they are under – much more than us chubby folk who just run along with our dogs. If I am huffing and puffing I can only imagine what fat dogs are feeling like after a run.
Obesity is rampant in our country (I carry a few too many myself) and this problem is becoming more and more prevalent in our family pets. Agility can be a great avenue for both a handler and dog to get in to better shape – but it won’t happen overnight. The pound went on slowly and they will come off even slower.
So, how do you know if your dog is overweight? As each dog is built differently, even within a breed, you must use your hands to tell you. Use this chart as a guide and it will help you determine if your dog is at a healthy weight or not.
I am constantly evaluating my dogs weight. Each week, after they get a brush out (the hair can be misleading if there is too much bulky undercoat) I feel them all over to evaluate muscle mass and overall weight. Travis puts on weight easily. If he is feeling a little “rounder” I’ll cut back his food and increase his cardio exercise a little and revaluate the following week. Indie, on the other hand, is very hard to keep weight on. He gets the same food as Travis, but also another food with higher protein and fat for additional calories. Even though Travis is on average 2kg heavier than Indie (both dogs are also built very differently) Indie frequently gets about 20-25% more food than Travis.
Our agility (and flyball/obedience/tracking/
dogs are athletes and should be trained just like any human athlete
would. A big part of the dogs training regime should incorporate
building cardiovascular endurance (distance running), core strength
(balance exercises) and increasing flexibility. There are so many fun
things we can do with our agility dogs that will keep them in the best
shape possible, while still teaching great skills that will be
indispensable in agility training. If you too are overweight (statistics
indicate that overweight dogs frequently have overweight owners) this
is a great opportunity for the both of you to lose that extra weight
Until our dogs are in a healthy enough “shape” to compete, they should not be competing. Remember, we have the choice to say “no, my knees are too sore to run this event” but our dogs do not, and will often run in pain simply because we asked them too. In ensuring our canine athletes are as healthy as possible we are increasing the length of their agility careers and life expectancy, decreasing the likeness of a crippling sports injury (a very costly expense), building immunity and ability to recover from injury/illness faster, and building a great relationship with our dogs.